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Inside-Out Leadership: How Inner Clarity Creates Outward Change

Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk....muted question, talk, talk, talk, waiting for an answer, talk, talk, talk, talk, end. Does this cadence of conversation sound familiar to anyone? Meetings with this person are an endless parade of knowledge, overly talking TO you rather than WITH you. There is no space for you to share thoughts or ideas because they are overly engrossed in their own. A leader who lacks self-awareness is often accused of such behavior, and is mostly unaware of how s/he is received Self-awareness is a critical aspect of leadership development. It is one of the only areas we can develop to actually ensure we make more conscious decisions, improve communication, and enhance our interactions with others. In this article, we will explore what self-awareness is and why it is important. Additionally, I'll provide a guide for how you can begin your own journey to greater self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence, and an essential component of personal and professional success. It allows us to understand our strengths and weaknesses, recognize our triggers, and manage our emotions effectively. When we are self-aware, we can respond to situations thoughtfully rather than reacting impulsively. Yet ,one of the most significant benefits of self-awareness is the ability to understand how others perceive us.

The way we interact with others will shape their perceptions of us, their perceptions then shape their 'story' of us, which become their personal and professional narratives of us. Being aware of how others see us provides valuable insights into our blinded behaviors and the impact they have on those around us. It is only through this understanding, this self-awareness, that we begin to see the manner in which we do or do not influence others It is the only thing that can guide us to adjusting our actions, behaviors, and communication style in order to foster more positive relationships, ones that will ultimately produce followers.

Unfortunately, all too often, our hyper-focus on ourselves and our own beliefs can sometimes lead to neglecting the emotions and perspectives of others. When we are too absorbed in our own views, we may fail to notice when others are not responding to us or when they feel disregarded. This lack of awareness can damage relationships and create an environment where others feel undervalued and unheard. Poor self-awareness can also manifest in behaviors like micromanagement. When individuals are unable to see beyond their own perspectives, they may try to control every aspect of their environment and the actions of others, leading to frustration and resentment.

Pop quiz...How do you know if others feel. you may lack self-awareness? Answer...If you have employees who express stress, frustration, anger, or who seem demotivated, withdrawn, or may be too late, their story of you is being written. Feelings of this magnitude are often late expressions following a long period of time trying to show you more subtle, even patronizingly respectful signs. Such early signs may include: crossing arms, tapping fingers, tightened lips, short responses, making subtle yet critical remarks, increase in mistakes, delayed responses, being inaccessible, or becoming more formal in their tone with you.

Cultivating self-awareness is not as simple as taking a course. Its a commitment in self-reflection and introspection, it takes time, and it takes having some tough conversations with yourself and others. Likely the most challenging piece of this journey is the emotional turmoil one faces as they release their ego and face a vulnerability unlike they have ever experienced. It can be humiliating and shameful as you start recognizing the part you played in those challenging relationships throughout your life.

A self-reflection exercise is a valuable tool for enhancing your leadership skills and making a positive impact to those around you and to yourself. It provides an opportunity to examine your thoughts, experiences, behaviors, and motives, giving you greater insight to how you behave in certain situations, identify the things that cause you to react in certin ways, then ultimately define a plan for how you can do better. To help you develop your self-awareness, I've included the following guide to help you navigate through your personal self-assessment journey.

Step 1: Prepare Your Mind and Environment

Choose a quiet and comfortable location where you can sit in silence without distractions. I recommend having a journal and pen available to take notes.

Step 2: Identify Your Motivations

Start by writing why you want to do a self-awareness exercise. Be honest and non- judgmental with yourself. Consider if it's because you're not advancing in your job as expected, facing challenging relationships, not receiving desired responses from your team, or receiving consistent feedback about behaviors impacting others.

Step 3: Deeper Understanding of Yourself

1. Who has inspired you throughout your life, and what values have they instilled in you?

2. What are 2-3 things you do better than most?

3. What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most and the least?

4. What are your top 5 core values?

5. What 2-3 things do you struggle with, either because you dislike them or haven't been successful at them?

Step 4: Align Your Experiences and Outcomes

1. Look back over your previous 2-3 jobs or roles, what caused you to leave? Is there a commonality in the reasons? How do you contribute to that?

2. Which leader have you had the most successful relationship with, and what behaviors did they instill in you? How did this person treat you that made it "successful" for you?

3. Which leader have you had the most challenging relationship with, and what behaviors caused the issues? What behaviors of yours contributed to it being "challenging".

4. What behaviors by team members or colleagues cause frustration for you? Think about past experiences over 2-3 years, is there a commonality?

5. What behaviors or actions by team members or colleagues hurt your ego? In what ways could others see you as being egotistical?

Step 5: Deepen Your Introspection

1. Do you prefer to work alone or with a team? Why?

2. What leadership style do you work best with? Worst with?

3. Beside each of your core values from step 3, write how your actions with others demonstrate them.

4. Describe a recent success you had. What contributed to its success, and what did you learn about yourself from it?

5. Describe a recent challenge you faced. What made it challenging, and what did you learn about yourself from it?

6. Describe a recent misunderstanding you had with a colleague, team member, or supervisor. How did their perspective differ from yours, and what could you have done to de-escalate the situation?

7. In what 2-3 ways do you demonstrate you value others? Would the other person recognize your behavior to them as something you value?

8. How do you handle conflict? Does your approach generally result in mutual satisfaction, and do you have a replicable approach to conflict management (responding), or do you primarily react in the moment?

9. What behaviors by others 'trigger' you, or frustrate you? What can you do the next time you encounter this behavior to minimize a triggered reaction? In what ways can you learn to accept or understand these behaviors in others?

10. How do you like to be recognized, and how do you extend recognition to team members?

11. What feedback about your attitude, personality, and behaviors have you received from your manager, colleagues, team members, family, and friends? Include feedback you believe and dont believe...then focus more on the feedback you dont believe. In what ways could they be right?

Step 6: Take a Personality Quiz (if you need a recommendation, reach out to me):

1. What strengths or attributions did it identify? Do you agree or disagree, and why?

2. What areas of improvement did it identify? Do you agree or disagree, and why?

3. What did it reveal about yourself that you didnt know, which could explain some of the relationship challenges you've had in the past?

Step 7: Identify Development Goals

1. What are 1-2 short-term development goals, and what what areas do you need to develop to accomplish them?

2. What is 1 long-term development goal, and what do you need to develop to accomplish it?

Step 9: Conduct a 360-Feedback Survey

If possible, conduct a 360-feedback survey with 6-10 colleagues, supervisors, peers, and/or team members. Alternatively, you can provide an opportunity for a peer group of 6-10 to complete an anonymous “Start – Stop – Keep” exercise about you:

1. Start: Let them identify behaviors or actions you should start because they are missing and would enhance your leadership.

2. Stop: Let them identify behaviors or actions you should stop because they minimize your leadership capacity or negatively impact those around you.

3. Keep: Let them identify behaviors or actions you should keep because they are meaningful, valuable, and appreciated.

Step 9: Reflect on Key Learnings

Identify your top 2-3 key learnings from this exercise and what you will do with that information. Did any new themes arise that you were previously blind to, either good or bad?

Step 10: Develop a Continuous Improvement Plan

Develop a plan for how you will continue to update your self-awareness assessment and build on your strengths. Determine whether your weaknesses need to be developed and how you will address them, or how you can allow the strengths of others to compliment your weaknesses.

In conclusion, self-awareness is a critical skill that influences every aspect of our lives. By understanding ourselves and how others perceive us, we can build stronger, more trusting relationships. Recognizing the signs of poor self-awareness and addressing them proactively can prevent issues from escalating and create a more positive and productive environment. Take the time to reflect on your actions and their impact on others, and use this self-assessment questionnaire to guide your growth, I hope you find it enlightening! Your career and personal relationships will benefit immensely from your ongoing journey of self-discovery.

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